Weekend Briefing No. 400

Welcome to the weekend. And welcome to the 400th Weekend Briefing. For those of you that have been here from the beginning, thanks so much for being an important member of the community. For those of you that joined more recently, I’m so glad you’re here.

Writing the briefing is truly one of the highlights of my week. I hope they bring joy to you. Onward!

Also, I’ll be in LA October 20-21. I’d love to connect. Click here if you’re interested in meeting up.

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Prime Numbers

23,000—A malaria vaccine just approved by the World Health Organization is expected to prevent 5.4 million cases of malaria and 23,000 deaths of children under the age of five every year if successfully rolled out to countries with high incidence.

250—Spain is rolling out €250 payments to people under the age of 35 who earn less than €23,725 a year to jostle them out of living at home with their parents.

47—Only 47% of lawyers under the age of 36 think that law school was worth the cost.

Johnny Ive on Steve Jobs

On the 10th anniversary of Steve Jobs’s death, Sir Jony Ive (the iconic Apple product designer) reflects on their collaborations and friendship. He says, “Since giving Steve’s eulogy, I have not spoken publicly about our friendship, our adventures or our collaboration. But I think about Steve every day. He was without doubt the most inquisitive human I have ever met. His insatiable curiosity was not limited or distracted by his knowledge or expertise, nor was it casual or passive. It was ferocious, energetic and restless. His curiosity was practiced with intention and rigor. Being curious and exploring tentative ideas were far more important to Steve than being socially acceptable. Our curiosity begs that we learn. And for Steve, wanting to learn was far more important than wanting to be right. As thoughts grew into ideas, however tentative, however fragile, he recognized that this was hallowed ground. He had such a deep understanding and reverence for the creative process. He understood creating should be afforded rare respect—not only when the ideas were good or the circumstances convenient. Ideas are fragile. If they were resolved, they would not be ideas, they would be products. It takes determined effort not to be consumed by the problems of a new idea. Problems are easy to articulate and understand, and they take the oxygen. Steve focused on the actual ideas, however partial and unlikely.” Wall Street Journal (7 minutes)

Tech-Tonic Shift

Technology is fueling most of the growth across the global economy. Tech companies have accounted for 52% of total market growth since 2015. But non-tech companies are also growing through the implementation of tech. A Bain study has found that the companies who are most successful at implementing tech are doing four things differently. (1) First, they’re using data and analytics to gain an edge. By actively managing and drawing insights from large data sets, companies can more rapidly improve their offers based on real-time customer feedback. (2) Second, winning companies are scaling rapidly while owning fewer assets. Cloud technology and platforms have made this “asset-light” model possible because companies can now achieve scale through connection rather than production. (3) Third, realizing they don’t have to own everything, leading companies are using partnerships to add capabilities faster and cheaper than developing them internally. (4) Lastly, companies are investing in tech talent to help them take full advantage of cloud technologies and platform business models. Just look at Goldman Sachs for a clear view of how executives across sectors are reshaping their businesses with technology. The US-based financial services firm now has more software developers (10K) than most technology companies. Coders make up about 25% of its workforce. Bain & Company (8 minutes)

The Cookie Crumbles

As Apple and Google enact privacy changes, businesses are grappling with the fallout, Madison Avenue is fighting back and Facebook has cried foul. Apple introduced a pop-up window for iPhones in April that asks people for their permission to be tracked by different apps. Google recently outlined plans to disable a tracking technology in its Chrome web browser. And Facebook said last month that hundreds of its engineers were working on a new method of showing ads without relying on people’s personal data. The developments may seem like technical tinkering, but they were connected to something bigger: an intensifying battle over the future of the internet. The struggle has entangled tech titans, upended Madison Avenue and disrupted small businesses. And it heralds a profound shift in how people’s personal information may be used online, with sweeping implications for the ways that businesses make money digitally. New York Times (9 minutes)

The Couchsurfing Story

This is the story of the grand Couchsurfing experiment and all the heartbreak that followed. Couchsurfing, founded in 2004, is an international community of travelers who allow people to crash on strangers’ couches around the world. The goal was cultural exchange; the medium was a free couch. The community was tight-knit and had a pay-it-forward attitude. They started as a non-profit, but in 2011, the founders told their team that they couldn’t stay a nonprofit. They announced that the company was raising $7.6 million in venture funding but promising to remain free. Over the next four years, the company cycled through CEOs and employees. There was a massive spike in users because they’d been attracted in part by an advertising push, and there was an easier onboarding process. They were less committed and slower to adapt to the pay-it-forward spirit of Couchsurfing. Suddenly, there were a ton of people who were active surfers and relatively few who were actively hosting. So, it started taking surfers longer to find hosts. There were heartbreaking stories of idealistic young women being raped or murdered, allegedly by people they’d met through the site. Stories of harassment and assault have continued to surface in the years since. Despite this flailing, Couchsurfing’s spokesperson claims that the company “would have been financially sustainable if not for the pandemic.” In mid-May 2020, they announced a paywall. To access the platform, most members had to pay $2.39 per month, or $14.29 per year. Immediately, there were questions about whether the way the paywall was implemented was in compliance with European Union data law, known as GDPR, which stipulates that people have a right to access their personal data. Unsurprisingly, the implementation of the paywall led to waves of backlash. For longtime members mulling whether to go back on the site once they’re ready to hit the road or host surfers again, the persistence of the paywall might be a deciding factor. “I think I’ll always be a couchsurfer,” says Roberts, the St. John’s professor. “I don’t know if I’ll always use Couchsurfing.com.” Input (22 minutes)

The Fermi Paradox

Upon looking up at the star-filled night sky, physicist Enrico Fermi had a question: ”Where is everybody?” There are 500 billion sun-like stars and 100 billion Earth-like planets. So, is there life out there, if so… where is everybody? This is the Fermi Paradox. One set of explanations is: There are no signs of intelligent life because there are no other intelligent life exists. We’re either (1) rare (we have made an evolutionary leap that life on other planets can’t), (2) we’re first (we made this leap before anybody else) or (3) we’re left out (every other intelligent life has made some evolutionary leap that we haven’t). A second set of explanations is: Intelligent life is out there, and there are logical reasons we haven’t heard from them. For instance: (4) Super-intelligent life could very well have already visited Earth before we were here. (5) The galaxy has been colonized, but we just live in some desolate rural area of the galaxy. (6) The entire concept of physical colonization is a hilariously backward concept to a more advanced species. (7) There are scary predator civilizations out there, and most intelligent life knows better than to broadcast any outgoing signals and advertise their location. (8) There’s only one instance of higher-intelligent life—a “superpredator” civilization (like humans are here on Earth)—that is far more advanced than everyone else and keeps it that way by exterminating any intelligent civilization once they get past a certain level. (9) There’s plenty of activity and noise out there, but our technology is too primitive and we’re listening for the wrong things. (10) We are receiving contact from other intelligent life, but the government is hiding it. (11) Higher civilizations are aware of us and observing us (aka the “Zoo Hypothesis”). (12) Higher civilizations are here, all around us. But we’re too primitive to perceive them. (13) We’re completely wrong about our reality. Wait But Why (26 minutes)

Teaching for Mastery

Would you choose to build a house on top of an unfinished foundation? Of course not. Why, then, do we rush students through education when they haven’t always grasped the basics? Yes, it’s complicated, but educator Sal Khan shares his plan to turn struggling students into scholars by helping them master concepts at their own pace. TED (11 minutes)

Nomad Architecture

Every few days, Nenet reindeer herders in the Siberian Arctic break camp and erect their tents (called chums) in a new location. This video documents how they do it. The Nenet reindeer herders need to move their tent every few days throughout most of the year. Every time they migrate, they must pack the whole tent away, drag it across the tundra on sledges, and erect it again in a fresh place, sometimes in temperatures of -30 degrees. Survival depends on working together as a team. After staying in the wooded taiga for two months, they start to migrate north and follow the ancient paths of migrating reindeer (caribou). In four months, they will travel up to 1200 kilometers, and must pack and move every three to five days to keep up with their herd. They must reach their summer quarters before the snow melts and floods great rivers with icy waters too cold and deep for the calves, born along the way, to cross. Kottke (33 minutes)


Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Based on more than 40 interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing and digital publishing. At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the 21st century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering. Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership and values. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

Drone Photos—These are the stunning winners of the 2021 Drone Photo Awards.

40 Concepts—I saw this mega thread on Twitter of 40 concepts you should know (and that will help you sound smarter in meetings).

Tiger’s Game—Tiger Global—a tech-focused “crossover” fund—is playing its own game in venture capital.

About the Weekend Briefing

This is a Saturday morning briefing on innovation and society by Kyle Westaway—Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose. Photo by Casey Horner.

Should We Work Together?

This newsletter is my passion project. When I’m not writing, I run a law firm for entrepreneurs. Rather than the antiquated billable hour model, we’ve developed an innovative new model called General Counsel. For a flat monthly fee, we provide ongoing legal guidance. No limits. No clock counting. Just quality advice every step of the way. We believe this new model is the future of law. Apparently, we’re not the only ones, Fast Company recently recognized General Counsel as a “World Changing Idea.” If you’re interested, let’s jump on a call to see if you’re a good fit for the firm. Click here to schedule a call.

Weekend Wisdom

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. Steve Jobs

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